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In The Vernacular Print-ready version

Road Trip to Joni75

by Ann Stadler
January 31, 2019

It’s only slightly irritating to me that I was so suggestible to let a poet, painter, philosopher, songwriter, singer so influence my life, but I’m more than happy with that influence. Maybe she was more reinforcement to my own thoughts and spirit than influence, I don’t know. At the same time that she was hanging naked by the shore of Half Moon Bay, British Columbia, I was doing the same on the boulders of the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. I thought it was my birthright and duty to dive naked and alone into those clean, cold waters. Regardless of whether influence or kindred spirit, I feel thrilled and lucky to be her contemporary. I’ll have to call in sick if she kicks before I.

Let’s just say that it’s a bit her fault that I moved to California. It’s a little her fault that I didn’t say yes to marrying a man. It’s somewhat her fault that I never had a child. Because of her, I value my freedom, my independence, my right to determine my future. I decided how things were going to proceed in my life. Maybe I read into her words more than she meant or just interpreted the stories for my convenience. I guess that is the intended effect. O California! Thank you, Joni, and thanks for pushing peace and Greenpeace.

I hadn’t checked the fan-based website for 24 hours when my, much younger, straight boyfriend, Rod, alerted me of Joni 75. Sometimes there is no news or sightings of Joni for months, but it has never failed that if I miss a day or two, then, there was something. I told Rod that there was no way that I was going, that I couldn’t afford it. I had been overspending. And he such a miser, I knew he didn’t mind that I wasn’t trying to recruit him to go. I perseverated for hours. I had the screen up and down and up again. My spouse, Jill, presented me with large cash bills to buy the tickets. We could’ve been in the second row at that point. I said “No!”. Joni probably wasn’t even going to be there anyway. I’d seen her once already in my life, in Berkeley, 1978. No! And then… I thought about Joni 75 every day for the next two weeks, and, of course, continued checking the fan website every single day.

I told my sister and a couple of people at work about Joni 75. No one could believe that I wasn’t going, each one rubbing it in that it was going to be the “concert of a lifetime.” Two weeks into the daily regret and looking at the very few single seats left, I saw that two more rows, premium orchestra, had been released. I jumped on those tickets so fast! Redeemed! Jill, Rod, my sister, Lynn and I made plans for a road trip from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles on November 7, Joni‘s birthday, and likely the one night that she would be there, if at all.

As the weeks of waiting dragged, it gave me time to think about which songs had so steered me. “Cactus Tree”, for sure. I was so busy being free. “Big Yellow Taxi” started me recycling in 1970. “My Old Man” let me know that I didn’t need a legal certificate to be true. “California” set my sights on the West. The “pretty lies” in “The Last Time I Saw Richard” helped me see through the illusion. “Banquet” really had me wondering “who let the greedy in and who left the needy out?”. “Let the Wind Carry Me” told me it was OK not to have a child. “Lesson in Survival” helped me know that insecurity is normal and that my verbal criticisms of society might make me “heavy company.” The lyrics of “Electricity”, “good dog and some trees, out of touch with the breakdown of the century,” really sent me on my way.

My first year college boyfriend, Dan, who’s now a university professor in Iowa, knocked on my dorm room door with “Court and Spark” still in the cellophane. We put it on the turntable, sat crosslegged on the floor, and listened to its entirety in sheer awe. “It seemed like he read my mind.

He saw me mistrusting and still acting kind. He saw how I worried; I worry sometimes.” I still think of him when I hear that. He told me decades later when we were talking Joni that he always thought that he could’ve been the one to “cure” Joni of her melancholy. I love that about him, even if Joni doesn’t need to be cured.

The song “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” like the earlier “The Arrangement,” again steered me away from life as a housewife and mother. I don’t think I really understood “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” until recently as being the feminist anthem that I interpret it to be. Joni says she’s not a feminist. In my interpretation of feminism, she’s a feminist.

After the first eight albums, ending with “Hissing,” I flew out of the nest on my journey. Eight albums of life and insight were a fantastic foundation. After 40 years of flying through time, I discovered Joni’s additional 11 albums of original work. They are like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Every album full of jewels. The albums are exquisite and timeless and I’ll argue anyone who says that any of them aren’t great. In the 1970s until this decade, my favorite album was “For the Roses.” Now, 40 years later, “Hejira,” the album and the song, are the tops for me. All that and we haven’t even hit the highway for Joni 75 yet.

November 7, 2018, Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday, started as a stellar, clear blue skied day on the Central California coast. Jill and I headed downtown in the Cadillac for specialty coffees around 7 AM. We were stocked with water and snacks and a change to evening clothes and the tickets. I think we only had to circle the block one time to return for an item – maybe wedding rings or a wrap for warmth. At Peet’s we bragged to the middle-aged artist/barista, Melissa, where we were headed. She got it and was enthusiastically jealous.

It was a gorgeous, hope-filled morning. It was a smooth, Joni filled ride, south on Route 1 to get to Route 101 South to truck on down to SoCal. Rod left simultaneously from Carmel Valley, through the Los Padres Forest and over the hills to meet us at yet another coffee shop. We met up in Soledad, home of the Pinnacles National Park and the notorious state prison. Rod secured his Prius in the parking lot and added his extra clothes and his usual bag of amazing travel food to our gear and settled into the backseat.

We didn’t pause to purchase drinks or to go to the bathroom where we picked up Rod, just continued south toward my sister’s house in downtown Santa Barbara. Not going into Starbucks in Soledad to pee turned out to be a colossal mistake. Trooping down 101, after 20 ounces of latte, my bladder became an issue. Ten or 15 years previously, on this route, in a similar situation, Jill and I had pulled off the highway into the town of Los Alamos during “Los Alamos Days.” At that time, the number of large trucks with gun racks, supersized American flags, and a couple of rounds of stink eye from local celebrants caused us to drive right on through town and back onto the highway. This time, in November 2018, we tried Los Alamos again. My body was tense as we scoured the main street for a gas station with a restroom. I was just about to pull into a station when Jill said that we had passed a coffee shop. I flipped a quick U and parked. We all exited the car and felt the warm, more southerly, sun. We walked into Plenty on Bell St to friendly faces behind the counter.

Men who looked like hip organic farmers or members of an alternative country band were seated at tables eating breakfast. We ordered some pastries and more coffee drinks to go and, while waiting, hurried out back to the restrooms, adjacent to the outdoor patio. We found the patio filled with attractive muscular women and their large dogs. We joked to ourselves that the women were part of our club “Les Bos” and realized that there was a military base nearby. The warm California sun of progress had found its way to Los Alamos in the last decade.

We made the pitstop at my sister’s in Santa Barbara. She had her dining room table laid out with light food. We all grazed as we darted in and out of the dining room in various stages of clothes changing. Lynn’s house was the ultimate, after the concert destination for sleep, so we left our bags and got in the car after a mere half hour. I swear it was another half hour before that car left the curb. One of the backseat seatbelts was buried under the bench. There was some dismantling of the car, some reassembling and we were all belted in and ready to hit the LA afternoon traffic. Then Lynn went back into the house for a forgotten item and then back in the car. Then Rod went back into the house twice, once because he decided if he was going to LA, he needed his sunglasses, no matter the weather.

As we left Santa Barbara, Lynn pointed out the remnants and signs of the previous January’s deathly and life shattering mudslides. We, however, were headed down the Ventura highway in the sun with the anticipation of a major life event.

Soon it was Rod‘s “time in the barrel.” We hit the LA traffic and he had to pee like crazy! We thought about having him jump out of the car and ask for a can or a bottle to pee in at any of the numerous tent encampments along the way. And since it was LA traffic, he’d just be able to then run up a bit to catch us and get back in the car. He just held it in pain.

We cruised into the city center in the vicinity of the Music Center venue about 4:30 PM. We had planned on valeting the Cad as it would be a no brainer for four people who had no idea where they were going. Valet wasn’t up and going yet for a 6:30 concert. We couldn’t even find our way into the underground parking. So we circled the blocks and found underground parking for ten bucks! We pulled right into a wide disabled parking spot as Jill had a temporary placard. The spot was directly in front of two bathrooms. Rod bolted from the car. Of course, both bathrooms were locked. So Rod ran off, up a wide staircase, in search of relief. I hung the placard and the three of us exited the vehicle.

We soon realized that we were in the basement parking of the immense complex of the Catholic Cathedral of the Los Angeles Diocese. Oh Christ! My dear friend, Rod, was out there somewhere trying to find a bathroom, perhaps occupied by yet another predatory priest. At least now Rod would yell vehemently at the guy and extricate himself, hopefully causing a scene, at the very least, as payback. I went to find Rod. The girls went to the giant gift store to buy Jesus shit.

After peeing and purchasing, we regathered and were ready to find food before entering the venue environs. It had turned cold, cloudy, dark, and windy outside. Only I had dressed appropriately in full leathers and a rose laden collared shirt. Everyone else was freezing. At the last minute Rod decided that he didn’t need those sunglasses after all and went to put them in the trunk. As I stood by, about 40 feet from the car, with the key fob, waiting for Rod, I just happened to read a large obvious sign that stated that the lot closed at 9 PM and that after that time we would not be able to exit the structure with the auto until the following morning! We would’ve been so screwed, in so many ways.

Back in the car, once again, to the safety and security of the Music Center underground parking which, by then, was just opening. We acquired appropriate parking! We strolled out, into downtown, relieved in many ways. We could see the iconic LA Times building and the newish Frank Gehry Disney building. We passed a modern art museum and could see into the windows of a second-story dance/art school studio. To us, it seemed like a hip area of renaissance and renewal. There was excitement in the air and in our hearts.

We grabbed some mediocre, but appreciated, counter order Mexican food. I wanted to head back to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the “Red Carpet Event.” I had fantasized that this would be such a large Hollywood event that there would be a viewing area for the public, paparazzi and tons of stars. In reality, we couldn’t even find the red carpet. When we did, we could see that it was just a sequestered event where a few stars and musicians were being interviewed and photographed for future publicity. The public had to stand on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of any, important to us, people. Jill was dressed in a handmade coat covered with roses and “looking like a beauty queen.” She just walked right over to the red carpet area. The other tippy toers looked at me. I just shrugged my shoulders and put my palms up. The crowd and I agreed. No one was going to stop her! And they didn’t.

We decided to enter the Pavilion. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was one of the major stars of the evening. Built in the 1960s, she still shined with her huge crystal chandeliers, sweeping carpeted staircases, sculptures in turquoise pools of water, edgy symmetry, and elegance that’s not much seen today. The four of us explored the building while doing extensive people watching of the LA BoHo Chic and Glitterati. Everything about it was fascinating and festive. We met up by the door to our aisle, door 4, for aisle 16. We entered.

The concert/opera hall began to fill up. Rod was in our row, but dead center in the theater. I was in the far left aisle seat, Jill next to me and Lynn on her right. The place was really filling now. The buzz was that Joni was actually was going to be there. The start time of 6:30 PM passed and there was a brief announcement that an important person was stuck in traffic – Joni! The place was now packed and there were only a few seats empty. The empty seats were in the fourth row directly in line with our seats. That’s where Joni was going to sit! Twelve rows right ahead of us!

There was a super loud, obnoxious and smart woman sitting right behind us. I liked her and talked to her and her people. They were somebody. We looked so great and we seemed to know a lot about Joni. When they figured out that we were nobody, the conversation came to a polite end. The aggressive woman kept running up the side aisle looking for Joni. I followed her every time. Close to 7 PM door number 2 opened, a light shined in. The pushy woman and I ran up the aisle. Joni entered and a bright light emanated from Joni’s eyes and grin. My hands were on my heart. I caught a hit of that light, warmth, and energy. Joni made her way to her seat. The lights went down. I scurried back to my seat, took off my glasses, put my head in my hands and wept. I wept through the entire first number. I had to watch the opening song on YouTube the next day before it got blacked out for future moneymaking possibilities. Joni, I hope you make a shit ton of money on all of this! I have a feeling you were cheated out of millions.

The concert was indeed a concert of a lifetime. I wept again at Glen Hansard’s version of “BoHo Dance” and Rufus’ rendition of “Blue.” I became an immediate fan of Brandi Carlile for her love and kindness that she showed toward Kris Kristofferson and also because of her amazing talent. I went to Catholic school from K through 12. I don’t believe in god but I do believe in Joni Mitchell and her words and her music. Thank you Joni. You have helped me through this life.

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Added to Library on January 31, 2019. (7058)


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